Monday, June 24, 2013

Correggio, Antonio

Portrait of a Gentlewoman
oil on canvas
103 x 87.5 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

The unknown lady is depicted under a laurel that is a symbol of poetry and hints at her poetic talents. The strict composition and the noble combination of white, brown, dark green and blue colors emphasize the cold beauty of the face. The sitter is shown wearing a mourning dress. Her brown robe and belt evidence that she belongs to the Franciscan Order. On the chalice there is a Greek inscription, a quotation from Homer's Odyssey, recalling the moment when Helen is giving a bowl of wine to Telemachus with a drink which brings forgetfulness and drowns sorrow. The tree-trunk wound around with ivy symbolizes faithfulness and eternal love. According to one version, the woman in the painting is the poetess Ginevra Rangone.

Antonio Allegri da Correggio (1489 - 1534), usually known as Correggio, named after the small town in Emilia where he was born, was the foremost painter of the Parma school of the Italian Renaissance, who was responsible for some of the most vigorous and sensuous works of the 16th century. Relatively unknown in his lifetime, he was to have an enormous posthumous reputation. He was revered by Federico Barocci and the Carracci, and throughout the 17th and 18th centuries his reputation rivalled that of Raphael.

His career is poorly documented and his training has to be conjectured on stylistic grounds. Echoes of Mantegna's manner in many of his early paintings indicate that he may have studied that master's work in Mantua, and he was influenced in these works also by Lorenzo Costa and Leonardo. Later he developed a style of conscious elegance and allure with soft sfumato and gestures of captivating charm. Although he worked mainly in provincial centers, he was one of the most sophisticated artists of his time, blending disparate sources into a potent synthesis. In his use of dynamic composition, illusionistic perspective and dramatic foreshortening, he prefigured the Rococo art of the 18th century.